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Baltimore's Hawaiian Room at the Emerson Hotel - MAJOR DEVELOPMENT!!!

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I have begun my quest for information regarding Baltimore's long lost tiki haven - The Hawaiian Room once located in the Emerson Hotel which was demolished in 1971. I have contacted the Enoch Pratt library in Baltimore which is supposed to be one of the best around. Any ideas on how to get started? Databases I need to explore? Photo achives? I haven't done research since college and I'm a little behind the times when it comes to looking things up - I think it also has a lot to do with the laziness the internet instills in us. Do newspapers have a searchable database that goes back all the way to the 50's?? Do libraries keep old phone books?? Help!


Aloha from the enchanted Pi Yi Grotto in exotic Bel Air Maryland!

[ Edited by: johntiki 2007-04-19 19:02 ]


Here's menu I forgot to bid on recently (&*%$##!) that may have had a history with the place in question.

hey johntiki,

haven't done any research at enoch pratt, but from my experience (national archives, etc.) the norm is more often to slog thru card catalogues etc. to find microfiche etc. although, in the past few years info technology might have caught up, i guess i'm just suggesting to expect something less than google :)

related thought, perhaps library of congress might have selected phone books if local baltimore resources don't. wild-ass guess. but library of congress is pretty damn cool, so are the national archives.

just another random thought, you might check the baltimore city historical society http://www.historicbaltimore.org/history/history.htm oftentimes city-based historical societies have pretty good photographical indexes. and since the emerson hotel was such a high-profile place (connected to emerson drugs who made BROMO-SELTZER) u mite turn something up.

best of luck my bro...


I would suggest looking at old phone books and newspapers from the time for ads, etc. That may be all you get of the place. If you know when it opened, you might have a nice article on it around then in the paper.

On 2004-05-25 22:28, johntiki wrote:
I haven't done research since college and I'm a little behind the times when it comes to looking things up - I think it also has a lot to do with the laziness the internet instills in us.

Don't be afraid to ask your friendly local librarian for assistance -- that's what they're there for! They should have the local newspaper(s) (on microfilm) going back many years.

I have finally uncovered a piece of documentation on the long lost Hawaiian Room at the Emerson Hotel...quite possibly the only true tiki bar that has ever existed in Baltimore! The blurbs below are scanned directly from articles that I believe appeared in the Baltimore Sun in February and April of 1971 - a couple months before the demolition of the classic hotel. Neither of these articles deal specifically with the Hawaiian Room but, the first article below is the only account I've discovered of what the interior must have looked like. The second is a remembrance article about the Emerson Hotel written by a former manager of the hotel - Kemp C. Ga...the rest of the name is cut off! I'm going to contact the Pratt library and attempt to get the writer/manager's full name...hopefully he is still among the living. In his picture that accompanies the article he appears to be in his mid-50's...33 years ago. Finally, I got a rather
unusual piece of information...the auction item list of Hawaiian Room furnishing that were destined to be auctioned off in February of 1971! I will scan this page and post it when I get some time...items of interest - #581 Asst. Artificial Planters, Wall Decorations (tikis?), Stones, etc. - Quantity - Lot #582 Asst. Ceiling Decorations, etc. - Quantity 230 - Wow that ceiling must have had some intense clutter!

This seems like a good start - now I just have to make time to browse the phone books on microfilm down at the library.

A side note...reading the articles about the demise of this glorious hotel is rather depressing...I need to track down when the Hawaiian Room opened, maybe the article will seem a tad more upbeat.


Aloha from the enchanted Pi Yi Grotto in exotic Bel Air Maryland!

[ Edited by: johntiki 2007-04-19 19:01 ]

very cool findings johntiki! have you hit the library already - ?

i took the liberty of putting your scans through the Optical Character Recognition program on my pc, so the following is that text in ascii to make it more cut-and-pasteable...

keep on truckin!

A turn to the right takes you to the "Hawaiian Room," Baltimore’s most California effort in the supper club business. It was budgeted for about $84,000, but cost $125,000, what with all the lava rock brought from "the islands" and the Pacific coral. Lamps were made in the shape of blowfish in this part of the forest and the drinks were served in ceramic pineapples and death's heads.

The hotel’s original barbershop, in the basement section where we later installed the Hawaiian Room, was an elaborate, eight-chair emporium as expensively fitted as the rest of the hotel.

the pre-tiki barber shop.

just take a little off the top and sides...

[ Edited by: Johnny Dollar on 2004-05-28 10:32 ]


"The man with the action-packed expense account. America's fabulous freelance insurance investigator" - Johnny Dollar, you're the man! Now we're getting somewhere! This picture has really piqued my interest, now I've really got to see what the Hawaiian Room looked like - did they cram a bar into that small space or did they expand? Where did you come across that photo?

I'm still waiting for a response from the Pratt about who the mystery former manager was...I'm perfectly willing to track him or his family down and see if he or his descendents might have photos or documentation of the installation and operation.

Excellent thread. There's far too little information about how to research long-lost Tiki establishments. Many of us would like to dig a little deeper, but it's often difficult to know hwre to start. Too much of the information we have about such places is as a result of pure dumb luck.

Perhaps someone could write a concise but informative guide to researching Tiki for Tiki Central and using our collective interest & skills we could map out the lost world of Tiki.

Trader Woody

hey jt,

i followed the advice i gave you and looked thru the maryland historical society - digitized collections and searched "emerson." http://www.mdhs.org/explore/library/digi_collections.html there are a whole slew of 1940's and 1950's photos of trade and factory organizations having luncheons and dinners at the emerson, but nothing tiki. i looked through them all, so don't spend your time unless you want (i was very bored this afternoon).

what a delightful luncheon, hey hon?

actually my wahine pointed out that before 1960's white flight, baltimore had a whole lot of upper crusties downtown.

she had another observation, that if you can charm a librarian at enoch-pratt to help you out, they will dig and dig until they find something. apparently they live for this kind of research stuff...

mahalo for the props ~ back atcha brah's

p.s. from the outside in the heyday ~

[ Edited by: Johnny Dollar on 2004-05-28 13:22 ]

hey johntiki, the manager appears to still have an address, over by towson university. i pm'ed you the info. (with phone #)

good luck ~


Well, it looks like my investigation has reached a dead end, literally. The former manager of the Emerson Hotel - Kemp C. Gatling died in December of 2001 at the age of 89. I've got to pursue my other leads now...will keep everyone informed.


I got my hopes up for a moment when I received a scan of this postcard from Polynesian Pop...unfortunately he did not have the actual postcard so he couldn't confirm or deny that this is indeed the Emerson's Hawaiian Room and not the Hawaiian Room at the Hotel Lexington in New York City. Does anyone own this postcard? Does the reverse side of this card reveal the true location and identity of this tropical paradise?

[ Edited by: johntiki 2007-04-19 19:05 ]


Below is a scan of the itemized list from 1971 when the contents of the Hawaiian Room and the entire Emerson Hotel were auctioned off...to think at what treasures might have been sold off for a few dollars makes me sick to my stomach...

Of note - the postcard shows a lot of large and small tables as mentioned in the contents of the auction. One of the other acticles also mentions a large number of bamboo chairs...hmm...


Aloha from the enchanted Pi Yi Grotto in exotic Bel Air Maryland!

[ Edited by: johntiki 2007-04-19 19:05 ]

Sabu, can you compare the above dining room photo against the postcards you have of the Hawaiian Room in Lexington? Do they match?

If not, then I think we have the answer!

tiki sleuths kick ass!!!

[ Edited by: Johnny Dollar on 2004-06-08 10:11 ]


I got some good ideas of where to start doing some in depth research from a guy at the Baltimore Architectural Preservation Society (or something like that) He suggested the best way to start is to scan the telephone directories on micro film starting with the year you know the place was still in operation (1957-1958 - if I calculated correctly this is around the time my dad would have gone there when he was 14-15.) and work your way back to pinpoint the year it first appeared. Then you can begin browsing any local magazines or newspapers in search for documentation - reviews, articles, pictures (hopefully). Worse comes to worse you can just hope to find an add in the telephone book and not just a one line reveal of the phone number. I'll keep everyone informed on any new developments!


Thanks to a follow-up with Sabu the Coconut Boy he was able to confirm that the postcard posted earlier in this thread is not the Hawaiian Room at the Emerson Hotel...


More research is in order!


Okay, so the unadulterated anger over losing that damn mug on Ebay has subsided...another is up now but I'm not gonna get my hopes up but I digress.

All the negative energy that spilled out of my pores put me back on track in search of concrete clues of what was the Hawaiian Room. A couple weeks after my rant an article ran locally about a man who asked for or stole menus from all of Baltimore's restaurants for the last 40 years...I've contacted him in hopes of locating a menu from the Hawaiian Room...he's gonna call me back Monday to see if he has one, that's over 400 menus to look through so I'm gonna give him some time! I told the guy outright that I wasn't looking to buy the menu or break up what is a pretty amazing collection (in my humble opinion it would be great to have the collection donated to the Pratt Library! An amazing source of reference - tiki or not!) I'm just looking for a color copy!

I've contacted every media source affiliated with Baltimore and got a stack of articles relating to the Emerson Hotel - the demise, the auction of the property, the owner unhappy about the final bid in the auction and buying it back, the hotel auctioned off again and finally getting a respectable price - $503,000 for the property and over $300,000 in back taxes!, the auction of the contents of the hotel, the demolition of the hotel and the mourning of those who had fond memories of the grand hotel. It all makes for interesting reading but a mere mention of the Hawaiian Room appeared in only one article in the stack...an article that I already posted in this topic. I've contacted Baltimore Magazine who weren't any help...they've only been around for 20 years. I've contacted the City Paper, the free alternative paper, and they've yet to respond. I wouldn't be real surprised if I never hear anything from them. I contacted the Baltimore Sun and got the run around but hopefully the reporter I contacted had a kind word on my behalf to the librarian who may have the key to tracking down articles by specific dates. She's out of the office until Wednesday and the message clearly stated that the newspaper's archives were only available to staff writers and other journalists but I may have an in on a technicality...I do work for a TV news department...

Of note - I also joined a local Baltimore forum and tossed the question up to those who could approach it as outsiders looking in and gave me ideas on where to look next...a lot that I never would have thought of...

Also, someone made mention that the Emerson Hotel was immortalized, if you could call it that, in a Bob Dylan song called "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll." The song is based on a tragic event that happened at the hotel on February 8, 1963 when a rich 24 year old kid named William D. Zantzinger hit Hattie Carroll, a 51 year old African American cocktail waitress and mother of 11, over the head with a cane. She died hours later. To make a long story short the bastard only got 6 months in jail for manslaughter and Dylan wrote the song in protest to what seems like a slap on the wrist for the son of a wealthy businessman. Kinda interesting I thought. Hmmm, if I go back in the microfiche to February 1963, would I find interior shots of the hotel? Would I possibly see a neon marquee behind a bunch of cops inspecting a crime scene that reads "Hawaiian Room?" Could Hattie Carroll have worked as a waitress at the Hawaiian Room? Could there have been follow-up stories about her co-worker's with them posing in photographs inside the Hawaiian Room? Okay...before this starts sounding anymore like an episode of "In Search Of," I will end this post.

Notation added 3/22/05 - I was on my way to work today and heard "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" performed by Michael Rose - on the Reggae station! That makes it all more ironic... I've listened to and collected reggae music for nearly 20 years, I even used to do a weekly 3 hour reggae program on a local college radio station...and now, my love for reggae and my quest for tiki have suddenly merged!

When I discover more dear readers you'll be the first to know...off the record, on the Q.T. and very hush-hush...


Aloha from the enchanted Pi Yi Grotto in exotic Bel Air Maryland!

[ Edited by: johntiki on 2005-03-22 11:43 ]

'The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll' is one of Bob Dylan's better known songs - it appears on his greatest hits CD, and I have seen him perform the song live several times. It is a very powerful song - the lyrics can be found here .... http://bobdylan.com/songs/hattie.html

I never knew that the caning incident in the song happened at the Emerson Hotel. I wonder whether it was done in the Emerson's Hawaiian Room, or in another ballroom on the hotel property. If Hattie Carroll was struck in the Hawaiian Room, it would certainly qualify as perhaps the most notorious incident to ever take place in a tiki room. But because Zantzinger was drinking bourbon and ginger ale, and not some rum-based tropical drink, I'm wondering if the incident might have happened in some other room.

Zantzinger was arrested that night - but for disorderly conduct, not for murder. He was drunk, acting belligerently, and had been hitting several people with his cane all night long, and that is why the police were called in. It wasn't until Hattie Carroll died the following morning that he was charged with homicide.

The Washington Post did a story about William Zantzinger back in 1991. He was in trouble then for collecting rent from poor families - the housing was in terrible condition, and Zantzinger didn't even own the property, he lost it in foreclosure years previously when he did not pay property taxes.

A version of that article can be found at the following website (scroll down to the first post in English) It provides much detail on the incidents in the Emerson Hotel on February 8, 1963. It is strange that the incident took place during a ball to benefit crippled children, but ended up with the murder of a woman.

Another good article on William Zantzinger, Hattie Carroll, the Emerson Hotel incident, and the Dylan song appeared just a few months ago in Mother Jones magazine ....

I wonder if one reason that Emerson Hotel information is tough to find is the notoriety of the Carroll/Zantzinger incident. Sometimes when bad things happen, and a nation's view of a location is based on that single incident, people try to erase those bad memories from their lives, and act suspiciously of people who show up and express strong interest in things which remind them of the hidden past.


[ Edited by: ikitnrev on 2005-02-21 18:24 ]

I just posted a "wanted" ad on craigslist.com (Baltimore area) for anything from the Emerson Hotel Hawaiian Room. If anyone responds, I'll let you know. Good luck in your quest.



I have a menu from the Hawaiian Room, if you want to PM me your mailing address, I'll be happy to send you some color copies. Here's a few pics :

that's beautiful puamana, thanks for posting! is there a date or any info on the backside?


Interesting Tiki cross-pollination: The Tiki on the cover is similar to the design that Ren Clark's Polynesian Village used, based on Milan Guanko's Tikis.

Puamana, that is without a doubt the single most important discovery thus far! I am absolutely floored - I gasped out loud and my hands were shaking when I scrolled down to the pic! I would do whatever it takes to get color copies of the menu! I sent you a PM! Thanks so much for filling in yet another piece of the puzzle - this has revitalized my belief that there is more out there! Puamana, you have made my week! :D


Aloha from the enchanted Pi Yi Grotto in exotic Bel Air Maryland!

[ Edited by: johntiki on 2005-02-22 12:40 ]


take a look at that good advice right in the center of the menu:

"Why not start a collection of Authentic Polynesian Mugs?"

Can't beat that!


On 2005-02-23 04:29, tikicar wrote:
Hi John, I assume you saw this. Good Luck

Yeah, what kills me is that the seller's location is within 3 miles of my house.

Nice Menu! (I knew if anyone had one of those it would be puamana)

Sven is right. That tiki on the menu cover matches the logo used by Ren Clark's Polynesian Village in Texas. Here's one of my dinner plates for comparison:



Wow, that South Seas Deity mug got some heavy use.

[ Edited by: filslash 2008-09-13 12:05 ]


Now here's a question... If you notice on the menu the Bamboo Punch was served in a Kon-Tiki mug...does anyone have one of the Kon-Tiki mugs with a Hawaiian Room logo on the back?


This is kinda cool - my mom ran the Hawaiian Room past my aunt who is a few years older than her. My aunt said she has a picture of her and 3 of her friends at the Hawaiian Room! My mom remembered that she had gotten rid of a lot of photos when she retired and moved to Florida about 10 years ago and asked her if she thought she still had it - my aunt told her she knew she still had it because she remembered that she looked good in the photo! Well, my aunt called last night and confirmed that she found the picture and was mailing it to me! Now, I can't vouch for what we're going to see in the picture but, from what I've been told it's 4 women in a booth with tiki drinks in front of them...sounds promising. Now if she'd only been a good aunt and snapped a couple photos of the breathtaking tropical outpost that was the Emerson Hotel's Hawaiian Room then we'd have cause to celebrate! Nonetheless, the photo will be framed and take its place on the wall beside the 8X10 of my grandparents at their local watering hole circa 1943 (when a crab cake cost $.50, as the sign says)...I'll keep everyone posted!


Also of note...I got this article from the Baltimore Sun last night...it only dealt with how great the food was at the Emerson but it included a later photo of the hotel. I nearly flipped out when I saw it... my wife thinks I need my head examined!

...if we zoom in on the building, beneath the big marquee w/ Hotel Emerson you'll notice a smaller sign beneath it...

I couldn't get the photo to reproduce very well but it says Hawaiian Room with other text which is unreadable.

I'm going to see if I can get a decent copy of the file photo...

dude man you are a man possessed... very cool... the image that pops into my head is deckard examining the photo in blade runner...


Johnny $ - I'm starting to notice an odd similarity to Michelangelo Antonioni's "Blow-up." The only difference is that I'm not a Mod fashion photographer in 60's London who thinks he's taken a picture of a murder...

I'm starting to wonder myself if I'm wasting my time going through all this trouble doing all this research. I think a lot of people who initially read this thread have stopped doing so because it has strayed too far from the fun aspect of tiki and become more like a dusty archaelogical dig...

keep the faith man, urban archaeology, like any archaeology, may be a small percent of 'exciting' field work and alot of lab and book work. you're getting there.

On 2005-03-02 08:28, johntiki wrote:
Johnny $ - I'm starting to notice an odd similarity to Michelangelo Antonioni's "Blow-up." The only difference is that I'm not a Mod fashion photographer in 60's London who thinks he's taken a picture of a murder...

...And Pablus doesn't smash his Ukulele at the end of his set...

No, man, keep it up! It's very cool, both that the place existed, but even more, that it means something to YOU and that you're making headway!

I'd keep reading this post even if it weren't about a tiki site, or even if weren't by someone I know and like. But the two things together make it a pleasure to read :)


Take heart, just cause we're not posting doesn't mean that we have lost interest. I have been following each new post. This is so interesting, each new post I look to see what new tidbit has been uncovered.
Good luck to you!


This is an interesting topic, you can't quit now. Keep us posted.


Thanks for the kind words of encouragement - that is just what I needed! I wanted to make sure I still had people interested in whatever may be the end result! :)


I wish that I had your drive and passion. Dont quit, it is only going to get better. And besides I have learned alot on how to research lost bars here.


Okay, so I get the photo from my aunt - the one that she thought had her and some friends at a table w/tiki drinks...well it turns out the tiki drinks were really bowling trophies and the way everyone is crammed into frame to take this picture eliminates any real chance of seeing what was happening in the background. But, this is as close as I've come to actually setting my eyes on the decor and it's pretty cool nonetheless. You do notice two carved smiley face thingees, I hesitate to refer to them as tikis, directly behind Ellie and Mary, who are standing, and between Donna and my Aunt Doris who are seated. Also over Ellie's shoulder you'll notice a ship's wheel mirror - that possibly means there must have been some nautical touches. In pencil on the back, besides the names, is "Emerson Hotel Bowling League 1962."

Oh well...it's a start I guess. So without further ado It's my pleasure to introduce the first (and hopefully not the last) glimpse of the Hawaiian Room interior - seen by tikiphile eyes for the first time in 43 years!

The search continues!!

john, regardless of tiki content, that photo says more about my hometown than several books :)
mahalo for sharing! j$


More info...I'd say this topic is quickly becoming my personal blog but I'm still not exactly sure I understand what the hell a blog is! :)

Got a phone call today from Jacques Kelly, a writer for the Baltimore Sun who many consider the man to turn to when it comes to Baltimore history! I e-mailed him and about 10 other columnists w/a long winded explanation of my whole interest in tiki and specifically the Hawaiian Room - I tried to keep the letter conversational and fun, hoping someone who started reading it would hang around long enough to finish it. I also hoped that one of the feature columnists would hear my sob-story and decide it might make a nice light-hearted article that would in turn expose my quest to all those in MD and beyond! That was nearly 2 weeks ago and I had just about given up hope of anyone responding.

Well, when Mr. Kelly got me on the phone I immediately felt victorious when he complemented me on the great e-mail! He said that he loves helping out those on their fruitless searches and he vowed to look help me out! I gave him years that I knew the Hawaiian Room was in operation, tried to impress him with knowledge I've learned of the hotel's demise which I've been able to disseminate from stacks of articles from the Sun and the long defunt News American and even filled him in on the photo from my aunt. He also said he knew of a photo w/the Hawaiian Room sign predominantly displayed - which he is going to try and locate. So, things may be looking up. We'll see...


See , your hard work is paying off. Now you have others to do the work for you. Until the next update I will eagerly wait..

[ Edited by: filslash 2008-09-13 12:08 ]

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